ST. PETERSBURG -- Jeremy Hellickson began the 2011 season with a tender right hamstring and lofty expectations. The right-hander overcame both to perform with excellence, and on Monday afternoon, Hellickson won the American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award.
"I'm very excited. It's something I really wanted to win," said Hellickson during an afternoon conference call. "I felt like there were three or four other guys who were just as deserving, so it's very exciting."
The Baseball Writers' Association of America, a professional association for baseball journalists writing for daily newspapers, magazines and qualifying Web sites, is responsible for voting on several awards annually, including Most Valuable Player Award, Rookie of the Year Award, Cy Young Award and Manager of the Year Award.
Hellickson became the second Rays player to win the award, joining Evan Longoria, who won the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year Award.
"I guess I was a little surprised [to win], because, like I said, there were a handful of guys who I thought all had the same chance to win," said Hellickson. "I thought I had a good chance, but once I finally did hear my name, I was really happy."
Hellickson was listed first on 17 of the 28 ballots (which are submitted by two writers in each AL city), second on five and third on two to amass 102 points, based on the 5-3-1 tabulation system.
2011 AL ROOKIE OF YEAR VOTING
Voting results for AL Rookie of the Year, conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America
Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo (.254, 29 homers, 87 RBIs) received five first-place votes and was the runner-up with 63 points. Another first baseman, the Royals' Eric Hosmer (.293, 19 homers, 78 RBIs), had four first-place votes and finished third with 38 points.
"There was no wrong choice," said Hellickson. "[Trumbo and Hosmer are] both definitely well-deserving. I played against both those guys. Trumbo got me in St. Pete this year, so I definitely know what he's capable of doing, and Hosmer has all the potential in the world."
The other first-place votes went to Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA), who placed fourth, and Seattle Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley (.273, six homers, 36 RBIs), who was sixth, behind Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda (9-10, 3.74 ERA).
Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings, who made his big league debut July 23 and posted a .259 average over 63 games, received one third-place vote to finish tied for seventh place.
Arriving in Port Charlotte, Fla., last spring, Hellickson was projected as a favorite for the award. After incurring a strained right hamstring during the first week of Spring Training, he quickly grew familiar with riding a stationary bicycle, swimming in the pool and daily electronic stimulation and ice treatments, which eventually led to bullpen sessions on the side and throwing batting practice to hitters.
Hellickson was ready to go once the season began, and he proceeded to go 7-3 in his first 11 starts, including a complete-game shutout of the Orioles on May 13 en route to his stellar rookie campaign.
By the time the 24-year-old's first full season in the Major Leagues was complete, he led all rookies in ERA (2.95), innings pitched (189), games started (29), quality starts (20), opponents' batting average (.210) and tied for second in wins (13).
Hellickson went undefeated in five consecutive starts against AL East opponents in September as the Rays earned the AL Wild Card berth.
"I think he deserved [the award]," Rays right-hander James Shields said. "I think the kind of year that he put on for our team and how clutch he was throughout the entire season, I think was definitely worthy. I think he put up good enough numbers to do it. As far as I'm concerned, he was the best rookie pitcher out there, the most consistent rookie pitcher out there. The guy went seven innings every time out."
Shields complimented his teammate for how he blended in with the other starters, particularly where work ethic was concerned.
"At the beginning of Spring Training, he had that hamstring injury, but he definitely worked hard coming off that injury," Shields said. "And I think it's a little bit easier with our pitching staff to fall into that type of work ethic.
"He put his time in every day and worked hard and stayed healthy all year. I don't think he missed a start. And that's a tribute to his work ethic."
Hellickson became the 10th starting pitcher to win the award and only the second in the past 30 years, along with the Tigers' Justin Verlander, the 2006 winner.
Hellickson is where he is after paving a blistering path through the Minor Leagues to Tropicana Field. He logged five consecutive winning seasons in the Minors Leagues, culminating in 2010 with a 12-3 record and a 2.45 ERA for Triple-A Durham. When the Rays called him to the Major Leagues for his Aug. 2, 2010, debut, he was leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
Hellickson went 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four August starts for the Rays in 2010 to become the first pitcher since 1900 to pitch at least six innings and give up three or fewer hits in each of his first three starts. He closed out the season in Tampa Bay's bullpen, finishing his first stint in the Major Leagues 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10 games.
"I think [gaining Major League experience in 2010] helped a lot -- just getting my feet wet, getting four or five starts in, even getting to stay around during the playoffs," Hellickson said. "So I knew what that was all about. I think that helped out tremendously. ... I think that's a good way to do it."
Hellickson was sitting on top of the baseball world Monday afternoon, but don't look for him to rest on his laurels. The Iowa native was already looking forward to next season.
"You really have to improve on everything," Hellickson said. "I started doing a better job this year of holding the runners. I think that had a lot to do with my success this year. [I] worked on my pitches during the year, made some of my pitches better -- you have to improve on everything. You can't ever be satisfied, so [I plan to] keep working on everything this offseason."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.